Central California Getaway
Summers reached its “calendar close.” I say calendar because if you were to ask any astronomer, we still have 3 weeks to go until the autumnal equinox (the actual end of Northern Hemisphere Summer). In a weird crux of ways, we rejoice this end of summer with a celebration. We take a day off of work, call it Labor Day, and do anything but “Labor.” I’ve always found that a tad ironic. But nonetheless, it means that many of us will lock our doors, stick our keys in the ignition and go. Our eyes will watch multiple lane highways narrow to single lane roads. We’ll count the miles from one small town to another, stopping for snacks, gas, and the inevitable toilet break along the way. Weird isn’t it. That this is what we crave? On Labor Day, we do anything but. Instead, we explore.
A few weeks ago, my girlfriend commented to me that we had the chance to join another couple on a camping adventure through California’s Central Coast. Weeks passed, the trip grew nearer. Work lives piled on projects and deadlines. Bank accounts beckoned for rent and utility payments. The heat and humidity every night had taken its toll on our energy. This “end of summer” couldn’t seem to come fast enough. Fast forward... Friday morning, our trek begins. I wake to the surprise of a small wind swell creeping down the California coast. Lauren tackles the daily inbox of emails at the office. Our friends, Autumn and Jake, have already snuck out of the daily hustle and are camping along the coast of Santa Barbara. We’ll be joining them soon enough.
We pull into the Refugio campground 30 minutes before sunset. The wind is howling out of the west and we have a small window of sunlight left to set up camp. We use my car as a shield which circumvents the wind around us as we pitch our tent. Poles through, tents up, throw on the cover, sleeping gear is tossed inside and we catch the final flickering glimpse of sunset. It’s cold. Woah, haven’t felt like this in months. Flannels, jeans, a jacket! As much as I enjoy board shorts all day long, there’s something nice about bundling up. Jake an Autumn return to the campsite from their walk up the point. Jake gets the fire underway as Lauren and I prepare Carne Asada Tacos. Modelo’s crack open. It sets in, like a weight off our shoulders we’re here.
Rise and shine! We’re hunting surf!
I’m awoken to find this exclamation coming from my girlfriend. What have I done? How’d I do this? She’s anxious to get up and chase waves? I’m not one to hold up that wagon so we collect our gear and hit the road. Our target is north of Point Conception. A rather wide-open beach known as Jalama. Jalama is known for it's raw exposure to North Pacific swells. Winter lines march their way across the Pacific and slam into this stretch of coastline before wrapping, and organizing themselves into beautiful lined up walls that we surf in Southern California. Today, it's a small user-friendly spot and perfect for a longboard. The sun is out, wind is pushing lightly off-shore and it's making for a gorgeuos backdrop. Excited to use my new camera equipmenjt, we suit up and paddle out. First feeling, shock. It's freezing. The other thing about traveling north of point conception (other than the swell energy) is the water temperature. It drops about 10-15 degrees vs its SoCal neighbor. Today's report: It's 2-3ft, clean and playful.
Switch up! Surf's done, waves were fun, we're off to a small Danish settlement north of Santa Barbara County. It’s buildings and the architecture are heavily influenced by Danish culture and the town is known for its local wineries. If you’re driving up 101, make a stop in Solvang. After a full meal, many glasses of wine and traditional Danish Pastries, we’re off to our next destination. San Simeon State Park.
If we thought Refugio was cold we ’re in for something completely different in San Simeon. What sounded like a summer getaway was more like a welcoming of early winter. Brisk cold wind out of the north make hats and blankets necessary items for comfort. Staying out of the wind is a solid option. Our camp is secluded in the woods, protected from the winds by overgrown oak trees. We sleep under starry skies.
Morning comes. Fog has rolled in and the gray hue takes over the landscape. The air is misty and our wetsuits, hung off the side of the cars to dry are anything but. These will be fun to get into. We load up Jake’s car with surfboards and gear for the day. Beer, food, cameras, a change of clothes. Off to Cayucos in search of a west wind swell that the buoys are reading. We arrive to find no such wind swell. Waves are tiny and the wind is onshore already. We spend 20 minutes in the ocean. More of a rinse off than a surf session. But, as we exit the water we’re shocked. We 've founda farm of sand dollars. Literally hundreds of sand dollars are lining the shore. We collect as many as we can while managing to carry our boards and shells all the way back to the car. What an incredible find. We wonder where they came from, how they got here, and why of all the places on earth, they seem to be so perfect.
Off to lunch, We pull into Cayucos State Reserve. An area of land just north of town, famous for tide pools and in the heavy winter months larger reef breaks. None of those today. But it’s a great stop to play with rocks, take some photos and enjoy the scene for some grub.
Moonstone beach! Here we come. It’s next on our list. I’m exhausted and ready for a nap. We’ve already had an eventful morning. I fall asleep in the car but I know the girls are excited to see this pristine beach. Wake me when we get there. I pass out.
Well, look what we have here… Moonstone Beach isn’t just all scenery. There’s a small beach break spinning out clean 3-foot waves, perfect peaks actually. Lefts and rights are everywhere. The surface texture is clean and glassy. I’ve transformed from a sleepy bum in the back seat to fullt firing grom. Wetsuits on, boards waxed I make my way down the small path in the cliff face. I haven’t seen waves of such quality and this uncrowded in weeks. Jake paddles out and it’s us and another traveling surfer for a few minutes. Shortly the girls paddle out to join and it’s just the 5 of us. Jake and I hunt after waves like the last good one of the day could be swinging in at any second. The girls take turns nosediving and occasionally making it down the steep green faces. Upon her return to the lineup, Autumn takes a set wave on the head. The force of the wave grabs ahold of her and her board and she’s thrown towards shore. She surfaces with a small laceration to her forehead and upper lip. Turns out the board smacked her straight in the face as the wave threw her backwards. She heads in and cleans up. Lauren joins her. Jake and I, oblivious to the incident that occurred, paddle around the beach picking off peaks for another hour or so. We come in, completely winded and depleted of all strength. We find Autumn and hear her story. We die laughing. Good thing she’s a trooper.
We wrap up at Moonstone Beach and head for Hearst Castle. It’s huge and historical and artsy. If you're in San Simeon, go! It’s one hell of a place and quite beautiful for sunset.
That night we eat and pass out. Our day was so full. We can barely move. Lying down… that’s what we need.
Monday, Labor Day. We clean up camp, pack the cars and begin our drive south. We have a few pit stops along the way. Number 1, Cambria, the small town that’s home to Moonstone Beach. It’s a quiet little town off HWY 101, with coffee shops and stores full of trinkets and other goodies that will send almost any 20-something female into a full decorative tilt. Jake and I find seats outside and wait. The town is scenic. Tall trees line the hillsides off the main drag. Homes run up narrow driveways while at the base of the canyon-esque landscape are shops running as they have for as long as anyone can remember. The town is slow and small. If you’re not paying attention you’d quickly miss the turn off of HWY 1. Swoop in for a coffee at the local coffee shop and we’re back in our cars.
We cruise into Pismo Beach for Chris Burkard’s studio. I had slid into his DMs earlier in the week and asked if he’d be around to hang out. He had planned to but, being Chris Burkard means adventure finds you… not the other way around. He jetted off to Colorado the day prior. We arrive to find his studio manned by the Studio Manager, Josh. Josh share the countless stories associated with each piece of artwork hanging within the Tin Shed that makes up Chris's gallery. We learn about Chris’s first camera, his collaborations with Album Surfboards, the first photo books he made recapping his early journeys. Inspired, we each pick up a little something to hold on to.
We leave Pismo Beach with eyes fixed towards our final destination. We cruise south of 101, headed towards the city of angels and mundane run-around of daily task with the coming of Tuesday. Out the window, rolling hills alive with golden central California sunlight stretch for miles. Cluster’s of Oak trees are spread amongst the grassy hilltops. We enter the canyon, speed through the tunnel, the road hangs a left and the Channel Islands come into view. We’re back in SoCal. Santa Barbara is a mere 17 miles away.
Just past Santa Barbara, we pull off the freeway at a stop all too familiar yet completely new to Lauren and Autumn. The little green marker at the end of the offramp reads “Bates Road,” a sure sign to any surfer that they’ve pulled up to Rincon. It’s 5:30, we have two hours of sunlight left and luckily, 2 ft waves are peeling perfectly inside the wind protected point. Suits are thrown on; longboards are yanked off the roof. Down the dirt path to the water’s edge we go. The first step is warm. The first stroke is clean. Out in the lineup, knee-high lines work their way down the point to the cove where a group of locals sit and wait to pick em off one-by-one. We slide in line to pick off our waves. Quickly cross stepping to the nose, dancing back to the tail, gliding through each section with effortless energy. The girls are in awe. I’ve explained to them the history of this place, the idyllic presence it holds within our sport and what it means to say they’ve caught a wave there. It’s certainly not pumping and classic Rincon but it’ll do for now. The sun sets the sky purple, yellow and orange behind each surfer as the waves carry them to the bottom of the point. It’s the perfect way to close out the long weekend adventure.
Alright almost perfect. We stop for In-N-Out before it’s all said and done. Now our next stop is Home.
- Steven Wilcox